Mount Tambora occupies its own peninsular, Sanggar, which forms the eastern arm of Saleh Bay. Everything about it is impressive. The 1815 volcanic eruption that formed the present day Tambora was the largest eruption ever recorded. The explosion was heard 2,000km’s away in Sumatra and volcanic ash rained down on Borneo, Sulawesi, Java and the Maluku Islands. The death toll from the eruption and the starvation and disease that followed as a result of ruined agricultural production has been estimated at 71,000. That was the local impact. The eruption was so monstrous it created a global climate anomaly called a “volcanic winter.” Europe and America had the “Year Without a Summer” and experienced the worst famine of the 19th century due to crop and livestock failures.
Tambora has been “sleeping” ever since the 1815 eruption but it suffers periodic fits of restlessness. Small eruptions occurred in 1880 and 1967 and more recently in 2011, 2012 and 2013 rumblings and smoke emissions from the caldera no doubt sent a shiver up the spines of the Sumbawa islanders.
Understandably, there’s a lot of interest in Tambora. It is constantly monitored by seismologists and volcanologists. Archaeologists and biologists study the human and environmental impact of that first huge eruption. Volcano nuts, trekkers and everyday Joes drawn by its impressive persona come to climb it in one fashion or another.
There are two ascent routes to reach Tambora’s massive caldera. The first and easiest route commences from Doro Mboha village on the southern flanks of the mountain and follows a paved road to an elevation of 1,150m. From there it’s a relatively easy 2 hour hike to the southern rim of the caldera at 1,950m, a location often used by the volcano monitoring team.
The second route delivers the complete Tambora volcano trekking experience. Starting from a coffee plantation just above the small village of Pancasila on the western flank, it climbs to the 2,851m summit via a track that starts in just above Pancasila, then through thick jungle before it emerges above the tree line onto scorched bare earth. It’s necessary to spend a night camped on the mountain just below the crater rim, at a point that can be reached after about 8hrs climbing. An early start on day two should deliver you to the summit inside an hour. The views across the caldera and eastward over Moyo Island and Lombok’s Mount Rinjani are sublime. Going down into the crater is an absolute no-no since 2007 due to crumbling and frequent landslides on the interior walls. The descent, via the same route, usually takes about 6 hours back to the trailhead.
The trail is not technically difficult or dangerous but obviously good hiking boots and a reasonable level of fitness are required. It can be quite windy and chilly up on the summit and at the overnight campsite so bring something warm to wear.
Access to Tambora has improved dramatically over the last few years. There’s a good sealed road all the way from the Trans-Sumbawa Highway turnoff to Calabai, a logging village only a few kilometres from Pancasila. Coming directly from Sumbawa Besar, the journey takes around 6 hours or 5 hours from Bima. Grab an ojek or car to take you to Pancasila where you need to get a permit.
There’s clean, basic accommodation available at the Tambora Guesthouse located at the trailhead in the coffee plantation at Oi Bura village just a 15 minute drive further up the mountain side from Pancasila. As well as storing your luggage whilst you’re up on the mountain, the guesthouse can provide a guide, porters, food and equipment (tent, sleeping mats and sleeping bags) for a very reasonable cost. Even if you prefer to go independently with your own equipment, the guesthouse is the perfect place to spend the night before and after your Tambora trek.
We note that the Tambora Guesthouse is also offering some additional activities including creek camping, beach camping, Satonda Island and a visit to the “Lost Kingdom Excavation Site.” We don’t know anything about this other than what’s on the guesthouse website but it certainly looks like the kind of off the beaten track activity our readers might be interested in.
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